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William Bligh (1754-1817) Part 1

William Bligh entered the Royal Navy on HMS Monmouth, 1 July, 1762. He was appointed master of HMS Resolution for the third (and fatal) voyage of James Cook (1766-1780) and served in the French War (which went until 1783). It was with Cook that William Bligh first saw Tasmania.

In 1781 he was made sailing master of HMS Belle Poule and fought in the Battle of Dogger Bank that same year; as a result, he made lieutenant on HMS Berwick.

Note this is a fast track explanation of Bligh’s naval career. Further research will provide a much broader picture including ships and military action than can be covered.

In 1787 Bligh was appointed commander & purser of HMS Bounty and ordered to lead the bread-fruit expedition to Tahiti. The Bounty, formerly the merchant vessel Bethia procured for the mission, had no other officers or marines to buffer Bligh from the crew. On the 11 month voyage to Tahiti he made a second visit to Tasmania and charted the South-East coast. While replenishing at Adventure Bay, Bligh planted four apple trees that have so dominated the last 130 years of Tasmanian export history our State is officially known as The Apple Isle.

The Bounty departed Tahiti in April 1789. After the famous Mutiny on the Bounty, Bligh was cast off in a 7 metre long open boat with 18 loyalists and remarkably navigated 5,822 KM to Timor, a journey of six weeks, and charted part of New Holland’s (Australia’s) north-east coast as he went.

Cleared of responsibility in Britain over the mutiny, Bligh was promoted in 1791 to captain and handed HMS Providence for a second (and successful) attempt at the bread-fruit expedition previously attempted with the ill-fated Bounty. Mathew Flinders (1774-1814), a well known explorer in Tasmanian history, was a midshipman on that voyage who fell out with Bligh.

April 1795 was Bligh’s next command. He fought in the Battle of Camperdown against the Dutch (during the French Revolutionary Wars). In 1797, commanding HMS Director, Bligh was involved in the Nore Mutiny at the mouth of the Thames. Twelve of his crew were court martialed and another twelve pardoned. Then Bligh, commanding HMS Glatton in 1801, fought in the Battle of Copenhagen against the Danish-Norwegian Fleet; arguably the toughest battle in the career of Horatio Nelson. The battle was directed by Nelson aboard HMS Elephant.

Captain Bligh, contrary to popular image today, was more than a cartographer or a bad tempered Royal Navy bureaucrat; he earned his rank, alongside other explorers of the day, in hard battle as Europe in flux fought for empirical power. And by 1800 Bligh had visited Tasmania twice, once with Cook and again on The Bounty.

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Steven Clark Steven Clark - the stand up guy on this site

My name is Steven Clark (aka nortypig) and I live in Southern Tasmania. I have an MBA (Specialisation) and a Bachelor of Computing from the University of Tasmania. I'm a photographer making pictures with film. A web developer for money. A business consultant for fun. A journalist on paper. Dreams of owning the World. Idea champion. Paradox. Life partner to Megan.

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